Maps are gorgeous and seductive representations of space and place. For several years as I was writing Dakota my study walls were covered with territorial maps, county maps, railroad maps, and late-nineteenth-century city maps (of St. Paul, Fargo, and Bismarck). Here are a few of the maps that helped me imagine the world in which my characters lived.
In March of 1861 Dakota Territory became a fact. This map, dated 1862, represents the territory that the character Moses K. Armstrong (who bears an uncanny resemblance to the historical personage and early Dakota politician, Moses K. Armstrong) would have known well.
This 1871 map shows the projected path of the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad. At this point tracks had almost reached the Minnesota-Dakota border. The railroad would reach Fargo in June of 1872, and Bismarck a year later. The cost of construction forced the financial house of Jay Cooke and Company to close its doors, initiating the financial panic of 1873.
This map shows Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Idaho, and Montana in 1874.
This is the Dakota Territory that Percy Bingham and his father, John Bingham, would have entered in 1875 when they arrived to select sections of land for the Bingham bonanza farm.
When Percy Bingham travels to Fargo, Dakota Territory, for the first time in 1875, he expects to step off the train at the very end of the earth. Instead, he finds himself in front of the grand Headquarters Hotel.
When the train leaves, however, Percy “looked across the tracks onto the most desolate streetscape he hoped he would ever witness, if indeed one could rightly call this wide expanse of blowing dirt in the midst of a random assortment of clapboard shacks a street.”
Eight years later, in 1883 when the novel ends, Fargo, with its population of almost 8000, will be steadily expanding its borders.
Dakota, Or What’s a Heaven For ends in 1883, twenty-two years after Dakota became a territory, and six years before North Dakota and South Dakota would acheive statehood. This map show Dakota Territory at that time.
A trip by rail for John and Percy Bingham in 1875, from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Fargo, Dakota Territory, would have consisted of about 21 hours of travel time, beginning on the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad north to the Northern Pacific Railroad Junction near Duluth, then west on the NP to Brainerd, and then, on to Fargo. This is the same route that Anna and Frances Bingham follow on their first visit to Dakota in 1876.
By October of 1877, when Anna, Frances, and her baby, Houghton, move from St. Paul to John Bingham’s bonanza farm near Fargo, they can take the train directly from St. Paul to Brainerd, and then on to Fargo.
On commission for a series of stories about Dakota Territory for Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, the character Moses K. Armstrong travels from his home in Yankton, in the far southeastern corner of Dakota Territory, to Fort Sully, and then on to Bismarck in the spring of 1876. He chooses to travel by stage coach instead of steamboat (on the Missouri River), hoping to make better time. The first 300 miles, from Yankton to Ft. Sully, takes a week. The second half of the trip is slightly shorter, but he is still at a station inn across the river from Fort Rice, 25 miles from Bismarck and Fort Lincoln, when he hears the disappointing news that he has missed the opportunity to accompany Generals Terry and Custer for a first-hand story about the pursuit of Sitting Bull.